Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alice Walker

Pet Shop Boys vs. Alice Walker

There’s a popular saying in Israel that if you really want to know what’s going on, you should talk to the taxi drivers. That’s the Israeli version of a worldwide truth: Ordinary people sometimes have a better grasp of reality than intellectuals. A classic example of this truth played out in Western cultural milieus this week, when representatives of both highbrow and lowbrow culture coincidentally weighed in on the Israel issue.

On the highbrow end, we had American literary lion Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. She has just published a new book, and as Jonathan Tobin detailed here yesterday, it is so vile that even the Anti-Defamation League was moved to denounce its “vitriolic and hateful rhetoric” as blatantly anti-Semitic. As Jonathan noted, Walker also has a long history of anti-Israel activism: Last year, she famously refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, to protest what she termed Israel’s “apartheid.”

Across the ocean, over in BDS Central (aka Great Britain), we had the lowbrow riposte, when boycott, divestment and sanctions activists tried to persuade the electronic pop duo Pet Shop Boys to cancel their planned appearance in Israel this weekend. That the group, considered “the most successful duo in UK music history,” rejected the activists’ demand isn’t in itself anything extraordinary: For all the publicity BDS activists receive whenever they do manage to get some performer to cancel an Israel gig, the vast majority of artists refuse.

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There’s a popular saying in Israel that if you really want to know what’s going on, you should talk to the taxi drivers. That’s the Israeli version of a worldwide truth: Ordinary people sometimes have a better grasp of reality than intellectuals. A classic example of this truth played out in Western cultural milieus this week, when representatives of both highbrow and lowbrow culture coincidentally weighed in on the Israel issue.

On the highbrow end, we had American literary lion Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. She has just published a new book, and as Jonathan Tobin detailed here yesterday, it is so vile that even the Anti-Defamation League was moved to denounce its “vitriolic and hateful rhetoric” as blatantly anti-Semitic. As Jonathan noted, Walker also has a long history of anti-Israel activism: Last year, she famously refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, to protest what she termed Israel’s “apartheid.”

Across the ocean, over in BDS Central (aka Great Britain), we had the lowbrow riposte, when boycott, divestment and sanctions activists tried to persuade the electronic pop duo Pet Shop Boys to cancel their planned appearance in Israel this weekend. That the group, considered “the most successful duo in UK music history,” rejected the activists’ demand isn’t in itself anything extraordinary: For all the publicity BDS activists receive whenever they do manage to get some performer to cancel an Israel gig, the vast majority of artists refuse.

What was extraordinary, however, was the reason the duo gave. Usually, performers offer some perfectly valid but neutral explanation, such as that boycotts are antithetical to art, or that boycotts impede efforts for peace. But Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist, Neil Tennant, chose instead to challenge the “apartheid” canard head-on. In a statement posted on the group’s website, he wrote:

I don’t agree with this comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. It’s a caricature. Israel has (in my opinion) some crude and cruel policies based on defence; it also has universal suffrage and equality of rights for all its citizens both Jewish and Arab. In apartheid-era South Africa, artists could only play to segregated audiences; in Israel anyone who buys a ticket can attend a concert.

I might quibble with the “crude and cruel,” but other than that, you couldn’t find a clearer and more succinct explanation of the essential difference between democratic Israel and apartheid-era South Africa.

As George Orwell once wrote of a previous intellectual fad, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” Unfortunately, the “Israeli apartheid” canard appears set to become yet another example of this truth: It is increasingly becoming the bon ton among the global intelligentsia.

That makes it all the more important for the “ordinary man” to speak out against it. And Pet Shop Boys has just provided a welcome example of how to do so.

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Alice Walker’s Undisguised Jew Hatred

The attitude of author Alice Walker toward Israel and Jews has become a key point of contention in the debate about the connection between anti-Semitism and the boycott-Israel movement. Twice in the last year, Walker’s hostility to Israel gained notoriety. Last year, she publicly refused to allow The Color Purple—her most famous work—to be translated into Hebrew as a protest against Israel and Zionism. Then last month, she took her act to New York where the 92nd Street Y hosted her in an event that was bitterly criticized by many Jews. But each time, Walker’s critics—including this writer—accused her of anti-Semitism, the writer’s defenders claimed that such charges were overblown or an attempt to blur the difference between reasonable disapproval of Israeli policies expressed via the BDS movement and Jew hatred.

I’ve written about how the BDS movement is inherently prejudicial, but Walker’s case is one that doesn’t require us to resort to theoretical arguments. Jonathan Kay added some insight to our knowledge of Walker’s belief earlier this month when he pointed out her embrace of a book that put forward bizarre conspiracy theories involving UFOs and Jew hatred. But apparently Walker is not satisfied with applauding other writers’ wacky anti-Semitism. As the Anti-Defamation League writes in a report on her new book The Cushion in the Road, Walker has crossed the line between any notion of legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. She doesn’t merely rationalize Palestinian terror, trash the state of Israel and compare it to Nazi Germany. She also blasts Judaism and traditional Jewish beliefs (for which she blames any alleged misbehavior by individual Israelis or the state itself) and writes of Israelis in terms that are undeniably anti-Semitic.

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The attitude of author Alice Walker toward Israel and Jews has become a key point of contention in the debate about the connection between anti-Semitism and the boycott-Israel movement. Twice in the last year, Walker’s hostility to Israel gained notoriety. Last year, she publicly refused to allow The Color Purple—her most famous work—to be translated into Hebrew as a protest against Israel and Zionism. Then last month, she took her act to New York where the 92nd Street Y hosted her in an event that was bitterly criticized by many Jews. But each time, Walker’s critics—including this writer—accused her of anti-Semitism, the writer’s defenders claimed that such charges were overblown or an attempt to blur the difference between reasonable disapproval of Israeli policies expressed via the BDS movement and Jew hatred.

I’ve written about how the BDS movement is inherently prejudicial, but Walker’s case is one that doesn’t require us to resort to theoretical arguments. Jonathan Kay added some insight to our knowledge of Walker’s belief earlier this month when he pointed out her embrace of a book that put forward bizarre conspiracy theories involving UFOs and Jew hatred. But apparently Walker is not satisfied with applauding other writers’ wacky anti-Semitism. As the Anti-Defamation League writes in a report on her new book The Cushion in the Road, Walker has crossed the line between any notion of legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. She doesn’t merely rationalize Palestinian terror, trash the state of Israel and compare it to Nazi Germany. She also blasts Judaism and traditional Jewish beliefs (for which she blames any alleged misbehavior by individual Israelis or the state itself) and writes of Israelis in terms that are undeniably anti-Semitic.

As the ADL notes:

What is shocking, however, is the extremely vitriolic and hateful rhetoric employed by Walker, the author of The Color Purple and a poet and activist. Her descriptions of Israel and Israelis can largely be described as anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.

On the very first page of the “On Palestine” section, Walker details her disillusionment with Black churches whose leaders recount Biblical stories about the Israelites’ various triumphs and travails to inspire their congregations.

Walker also shows a blatant lack of respect for ancient Jewish values and beliefs. She disputes the quintessential Jewish precept that the land of Israel is holy, arguing instead that all Earth is holy “but you can’t make any money off of that idea!”

She also, on several occasions, seems to indicate that the purported evils of modern day Israel are a direct result of Jewish values.

Walker’s descriptions of the conflict are so grossly inaccurate and biased that the uninformed reader would almost certainly come away thinking that Israel is committing the greatest atrocity in the history of the world.

Walker is careful to step on just about every possible rhetorical mine, even condoning terrorism against Israeli civilians.

What Walker has proven is that it is not her critics who have confused legitimate criticism of Israel for anti-Semitism. It is she who has taken the Middle East dispute and used it as an excuse to vent her personal hatred for Judaism, a belief that apparently has been influence by her first marriage to a Jewish civil rights lawyer. It is possible to criticize Israeli policies. Israelis do it every day. But Walker’s problem is not about where the borders should be drawn but whether the nation has any right to exist and whether its people and their faith are worthy of respect.

Any movement that treats one nation differently than any other and denies it—as BDS advocates do of Israel—the same right to exist and to self-defense that are not in question elsewhere is advocating prejudice. That’s why BDS, which advocates economic war against Israel and routinely calls for its destruction, is a form of anti-Semitism. But one needn’t resort to such arguments when it comes to Walker.

Alice Walker’s hatred of Jews, Judaism and Israel is so open and so vicious that there is no way even for those who are unsympathetic to Zionism to avoid the conclusion that the author is an anti-Semite. That’s why it is incumbent on those who have embraced her in the past as well as those institutions, like the 92nd Street Y, that have welcomed her as an honored guest and voice of reason to condemn her statements in an unqualified manner and to apologize for their role in promoting her crackpot theories. More to the point, she is an example of exactly why BDS advocates do not deserve to be treated as legitimate voices that deserve a place at the table either in the Jewish community or in public discussions of the Middle East.

Walker should no longer be treated as an honored voice of feminism or the civil rights movement. She has descended into the worst kind of hate speech and deserves the same disdain that we accord other inhabitants of the fever swamps of the far right and far left.

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The Conspiratorial World of Alice Walker

Last week, Jonathan Tobin used this space to criticize the 92nd Street Y—that “venerable Jewish institution”—for hosting Alice Walker in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Plenty of artists and celebrities express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But as Tobin noted, few go as far as Walker, who actually refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, and seeks to prevent Israeli performers from visiting the United States.

Tobin argues that defenders of the 92nd Street Y’s event are relying on an intellectual distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and strident anti-Israeli activism–and his May 29 blog post was largely an attack on that premise. But it’s important to note that even if one accepts this intellectual distinction, some of Walker’s recent musings about world-domination plots still serve to disqualify her from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Indeed, they are stunningly offensive.

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Last week, Jonathan Tobin used this space to criticize the 92nd Street Y—that “venerable Jewish institution”—for hosting Alice Walker in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Plenty of artists and celebrities express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But as Tobin noted, few go as far as Walker, who actually refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, and seeks to prevent Israeli performers from visiting the United States.

Tobin argues that defenders of the 92nd Street Y’s event are relying on an intellectual distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and strident anti-Israeli activism–and his May 29 blog post was largely an attack on that premise. But it’s important to note that even if one accepts this intellectual distinction, some of Walker’s recent musings about world-domination plots still serve to disqualify her from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Indeed, they are stunningly offensive.

Earlier this year, Walker wrote a post on her personal blog entitled “Human Race Get Off Your Knees: I couldn’t have put it better myself.” Students of conspiracy theories will recognize “Human Race Get Off Your Knees” as the title of a 2010 book by British paranoiac David Icke, a one-time professional soccer player who has spent the last two decades promoting the idea that planet earth is secretly controlled by giant inter-dimensional lizards who have taken human form (Queen Elizabeth and Bob Hope being two examples he has supplied), and operate terrestrially through a Dan Brown-esque secret society called “the Babylonian Brotherhood,” whose offshoots include the CIA and Mossad.

Yet, according to Ms. Walker, David Icke’s Human Race Get Off Your Knees is “amazing,” “stunning,” “magical,” “profound” and “the ultimate reading adventure.” Indeed, Walker reports, it “was the first time I was able to observe, and mostly imagine and comprehend, the root of the incredible evil that has engulfed our planet.”

“David Icke reminded me of Malcolm X,” she adds—especially Malcolm X’s quality of “fearlessness.”

One of Icke’s theories is that the reptilian invaders (the “Annunaki”) came to earth to harvest a special type of gold—which apparently can turbocharge their lizard nervous systems by many orders of magnitude. This detail really resonates with Alice Walker, who sees comparisons with earth’s own colonial history: “They [the lizards] wanted gold and they wanted slaves to mine it for them. Now gosh, who does this remind us of? I only am asking …”

In fact, the idea of some “alien” race seeking to rule the world by monopolizing the gold supply isn’t original to David Icke. It is a common theme in all sorts of conspiracist literature—including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which presented its imaginary Jewish authors as declaring: “In our hands is the greatest power of our day — gold: In two days we can procure from our storehouses any quantity we may please.”

As it turns out, the “amazing,” “stunning,” “magical,” “profound” David Icke is a long-time student of the Protocols: He has cited the Protocols respectfully dozens of times in his writings—including in Human Race Get Off Your Knees. Icke claims that he isn’t quite sure whether the Protocols are genuine, or even whether they’re about Jews (he has sometimes argued that the Protocols are actually about the Illuminati, though it’s unclear where, in his mind, one group ends, and the other begins). But, in the final analysis, Icke claims on page 127 of Human Race Get Off Your Knees, the Protocols “tell the detailed story of the last hundred years before it happened.”

Icke is extremely concerned with the genetic origins of Jews, in order to trace their role (as he sees it) in the rise of the universe-controlling Babylonian lizard-men who infiltrated the human race though Middle Eastern intermarriage. But, having been stung by accusations of anti-Semitism in the past, Icke generally prefers to use the term “Rothschild Zionist” to “Jew.” (The very notion of Jewish “history,” as we know it, Icke writes, is “a manufactured lie to serve the interests of the House of Rothschild and the Illuminati family network”—which, he warns us, seeks to establish a “global fascist/communist dictatorship.”)

Indeed, “Human Race Get Off Your Knees” is chock-full of tales of these apparently despicable “Rothschild Zionists,” including long sections devoted to the evils they have inflicted on the Palestinians. Presumably, this is one of the aspects of the book that made it such a page-turner for Ms. Walker.

Large tracts of Human Race Get Off Your Knees consist of lists of companies, NGOs and media organizations that Icke says are controlled by “the Rothschild-Zionist network” and its “satanic black magicians.” The “Rothschild Zionists” were behind the rise of Hitler and Stalin, he argues, as well as the assassination of Lincoln. There are also even more bizarre tangents, such as where Icke declares that “the House of Saud is a fake front for the House of Rothschild and they are not ‘Arabs’ or ‘Muslims’ at all. They are Rothschild Zionists who can be traced back to a Jewish man … in the year AD 851.”

I could supply hundreds of more examples from this one book alone—one of 19 that Icke has written—all filled with exactly this sort of hateful, hallucinogenic nonsense. And it says a lot about Alice Walker that she came away from this material inspired instead of repelled.

In a free society, David Icke should be free to say such things. And Alice Walker should be free to praise him for it. But let us not pretend that either of these two people are opponents of mere “Zionism”: It is clearly a much darker and more repellent form of thinking that is at play here. And it is unclear why an illustrious institution such as the 92nd Street Y should want to give a forum to anyone who exhibits it.

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The Color of Anti-Semitism, Part Two

Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

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Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.

Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead. 

Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?

The defenders of Walker and the Y will, no doubt, continue to try to differentiate between BDS and traditional Jew-hatred. But it bears repeating that anyone who advocates treating one people and one nation differently than others and denying them the same right to exist or self-defense that no one denies anyone else is committing an act of prejudice. The term of art for such acts when committed against Jews is anti-Semitism. To argue that anyone who wishes to prohibit Israelis from reading their work in their own language or the right to perform in public is not an anti-Semite renders the term devoid of any meaning. Walker’s actions are living, breathing illustration that the line between her open anti-Zionism and more traditional forms of Jew-hatred has been erased.

The Y, which appeals to New York’s liberal Jewish elites as well as more broad-based audiences that enjoy their lectures and concerts, is free to host anyone it wants. But by inviting Walker to grace their auditorium and by lauding her on their website as “a muse for our times; a writer with an extraordinary ability to both touch and propel the reader to action,” what are they saying? Unless the Y is hoping Walker will move her listeners to such anger at her outrageous attacks on Israel, what “action” are they talking about?

But by inviting Walker, whose opinions and actions about Israel are not exactly a secret, the Y is signaling that it and its members do not consider advocacy for the anti-Israel BDS movement to be a disqualifying factor when it comes to the people they invite to their hall. Those donors and members of the Y who have not yet lost their sense of outrage or their connection to the rest of the Jewish people need to make it clear to the group that such actions are not acceptable. Those who support or subsidize an institution that sees such a person as worthy of this honor are, whether they like it or not, complicit in the war against Israel.

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Alice Walker: The Color of Anti-Semitism

In what must be considered among the most egregious acts of discrimination against Israel by leftist intellectuals, author Alice Walker is not allowing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew because of her opposition to the Jewish state. The book, which was made into a popular 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, is a story about racism and misogyny in the American south.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that in a letter posted on a site supporting the boycott of Israel, Walker said she was refusing to allow the translation in order to boost support for the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state because of its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. But in saying she doesn’t even wish her work to appear in Hebrew, Walker is making a broader statement than a mere critique of Israeli policies. This sort of a boycott is an attempt to treat Jews and Hebrew, which is the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale. In doing so, Walker has illustrated how hatred for Israel can erase the line between political opinion and outright anti-Semitism.

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In what must be considered among the most egregious acts of discrimination against Israel by leftist intellectuals, author Alice Walker is not allowing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew because of her opposition to the Jewish state. The book, which was made into a popular 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, is a story about racism and misogyny in the American south.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that in a letter posted on a site supporting the boycott of Israel, Walker said she was refusing to allow the translation in order to boost support for the movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) the Jewish state because of its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. But in saying she doesn’t even wish her work to appear in Hebrew, Walker is making a broader statement than a mere critique of Israeli policies. This sort of a boycott is an attempt to treat Jews and Hebrew, which is the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale. In doing so, Walker has illustrated how hatred for Israel can erase the line between political opinion and outright anti-Semitism.

As JTA points out, Walker’s jihad against the language of Israel is mere symbolism. A Hebrew version of her book appears to already have been published in the 1980s. But however futile her efforts to prevent Hebrew readers from reading her prose, the decision to expand the boycott of Israel from products and investment in companies to actually seeking to isolate a language shows just how deep-seated the hatred of the country has become. In Walker’s world, Israelis are not just the bad guys in a fictional morality play in which the Palestinians are victims, but the very language they speak — the language of the Bible and the foundation of Western religion, values and morality — is to be treated as unworthy of being spoken or read.

Walker’s past diatribes against Israeli policy and her support for the Hamas terrorists in Gaza are ill-informed and rooted in ideological bias. Her belief that Israel’s measures of self-defense against Palestinian terror are not merely wrong but worse than American racism or South African apartheid is a calumny based on lies that can be refuted. But to discriminate against the language of the Jewish people in this manner is pure anti-Semitism.

It is possible to criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite. But Walker has crossed the line from an already indefensible economic war against the Jewish state to a cultural war against Jewish identity. Such boycotts will not convince Israelis to give up their country or their right to defend themselves against the ongoing efforts of Palestinians to destroy it. But they do serve as a warning that Walker and others who support her efforts have already crossed the line between the demonization of Israel and open expressions of Jew-hatred.

Rather than Israel being isolated, it is Walker who must now be treated by decent people everywhere as being as radioactive as anyone who supports racist incitement against African-Americans.

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